PoliticsWestern Alienation: Real or Perceived?

Western Alienation: Real or Perceived?

Western Alienation: Real or Perceived?

Alienation has taken root in the collective psyche of western Canada. Although often acknowledged, it has never really been addressed by successive Liberal governments. Questions are often asked of federal politicians as to whether this is a real and valid concern. As a Member of Parliament representing the people of an urban-rural riding in Saskatchewan for the past four years, I can state with complete certainty that it is.

Western Canadians have faced many challenges in recent decades, yet have found little support from the centrist policies of consecutive Liberal majorities. The values and opinions held dear by those living in western Canada have been largely ignored; the end result is that when ballots were cast in the past four national elections, the federal Liberals were largely shut out of every province west of Ontario.

In a country as large and diverse as Canada, policies on the federal constitution, language and culture are meant to pull us together. Yet, along with the concentration of power and resources in Ottawa, they are dividing us.

A classic example of this polarization is in the discriminatory hiring practices of the Public Service Commission of Canada. In one case that came to my attention, two law students from the University of Saskatchewan were refused summer jobs with the Department of Justice Canada because students with a national capital area postal code were preferred to fill those taxpayer-funded positions. Applicants from the rest of Canada were effectively shut out.

Official bilingualism has been the standard in Canada for the past 35 years, yet in the western provinces, many people speak only English or languages other then French. As a result, thousands of Canadians face an employment barrier, because of their inability to speak French, where no such barriers should exist in a free and tolerant country.

From an infrastructure standpoint, there is also reason for concern. Transport Canada says, "What is divided by geography is united by transportation." Yet of the $4.8 billion that the Government of Canada collects annually in fuel tax revenue, only 2.4% of that is invested in roads, and of that amount, less than one per cent is spent in the west.

Discrepancies in agriculture are evidenced in the handling of our grain industry. Whereas western grain farmers are forced to deal with the Canadian Wheat Board, their counterparts in Ontario have the choice of dealing with the provincial wheat board or taking their chances on the open market. Western farmers have been put in jail for trying to market their own product.

Even something as patently 'federal' as celebrating Canada Day is done differently east and west. We like to think of ourselves as one Canada, a proud federation of 10 provinces and three territories celebrating equally. Yet, when the Government of Canada doled out funds for its 2004 national celebrations, Quebec received 70% of the money, or more than $5 million out of a $7.25-million budget. Saskatchewan, by contrast, received only $150,000.

It has not been an easy process to convince the federal government to acknowledge the unique needs of western Canada and to implement much-needed changes. The reality has been a story of political opportunism, and Liberal politicians who repeatedly over-promise and under-deliver when coming out west in search of votes.

The last federal election really brought this home point. During the June 2004 election campaign, Liberal Leader Paul Martin said that if he did not reduce western alienation, he would regard his time in office as a failure. Soon after the election, and after his plans for a dramatic turnaround in Liberal fortunes in the west had been dashed, Martin changed plans to meet with provincial premiers in Regina, deciding instead that Ottawa would be a more suitable venue.

When I decided to enter the political arena, I had no misconceptions about the challenges I would face. I believe that it is the obligation of all Members of Parliament to eliminate western alienation; the federal government must do its utmost to convince western Canadians that it views them as equals in Confederation.

By: Lynne Yelich

Conservative Member of Parliament for Blackstrap, SK

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